People often ask, “What’s your favorite book you’ve written?” and it’s one of those questions I don’t know how to answer… I love different things about each one.
In a few days my TENTH book, THE HEARTWOOD CROWN is releasing, and I thought it would be fun to journey back through my previous nine books, sharing a little bit about what I like about each one.
My third book was a bit of an experiment in a variety of ways. I signed with a brand new small press and was one of their first books. They gave me a lot of creative control, which is partly how I got to work with the amazing Mike Corley on the cover! It’s a middle grade book and I wrote it mostly because my two sweet daughters asked, with their giant little-kid eyes and their sweet high-pitched voices, “How come you never write a book for us, dad?” Closely followed by, “We don’t like the Narnia books because there are no American kids in it!” Ah, kids.
What it’s about
Validus Smith has three goals. Stay alive. Save the world. Finish her homework.
For centuries the paladins protected the Earth from a creeping darkness known as the Blight. That all changed when a new enemy destroyed the paladins, plunging the free worlds into danger. Validus Smith—an ordinary girl in an ordinary town—is next in line to become the paladin. Untrained, unsure of her destiny, and hunted by monstrous forces, she must recover the fabled Sword of Six Worlds, the only weapon capable of defeating the Blight. The Sword, however, is not on Earth, but in a strange fantasy world connected to her own. In an unfamiliar world of monsters, talking animals and living rocks, can an ordinary girl like Validus survive?Validus Smith has three goals. Stay alive. Save the world. Finish her homework.
What I love
Oh man. This is my first published fantasy novel, and I have loved fantasy novels since I was a kid. There are talking animals (a must), stupid puns, a kind-hearted rock named Pookie, and a cool series of worlds (most of which you don’t get to see in the first book). And this may be the first glimpse you start to get of some things that become pretty obvious themes as you look at my fiction overall: kids who are friends and legitimately love each other; strong female protagonists; cross-gender friendships that don’t have romantic tension in them. Also check out this amazing fan art from David Larson! And Alex can talk to rocks, which is fun.
A favorite bit
There’s a scene toward the end of the novel where Validus has discovered she is the paladin of the six worlds, and that she needs to use the Sword to defeat the evil bad guy. But the sword can only be used with compassion… if it’s used in anger the sword will be destroyed. Val figures out how to do that and uses the sword, and it gives her this huge backstory to the villain that creates, I hope, feelings of compassion from the reader as well. The bad guy is still terrible, of course, but that little bit of compassion sets us up for something different.
- I chose the name “Validus Smith” because I wanted an “Indiana Jones” sort of feel with the unique first name and common last name. Also I took Latin in high school, and validus means “Strength.”
2. Alex Shields, the rock mage, gets a little shout out in The Crescent Stone. It’s not quite a cameo, but pretty close! And since Val does a lot of dimension hopping, well… you never know where she’ll show up!
3. The second book, The Armies of the Crimson Hawk, is written but was never released. I’ve got a publisher considering relaunching the series now (shhhh don’t tell anyone).
4. The series was originally pitched as a seven book series! The titles were going to be:
The Sword of Six Worlds
The Armies of the Crimson Hawk
The One-Eyed Wolf
A Shadow in the Mirror
The Blight Triumphant
The Dead World
Paladin of Twelve Worlds
Favorite review quote
Aw, my favorite reviewer, JR. Forasteros: “You’ll love your first adventure with Val and Alex, and be chomping at the bit for volume II. If you’re a fantasy fan, do yourself a favor and pick up The Sword of Six Worlds. And if you’ve got kids, read and discuss it with them! Bottom Line: The Sword of Six Worlds is fun, insightful and challenging. Though it’s written for kids, every age will enjoy it!”
How it prepared me for THE HEARTWOOD CROWN
There’s the beginnings of what would become a part of The Heartwood Crown here. And actually, if you were to read the sequel (yes, yes, I know you can’t) you would see that it’s actually really strongly a forebear to The Heartwood Crown. There’s an emphasis on the fact that other people may be wrong or even evil, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be reformed, understood, or cared for. But regardless, we have the Sword of Six Worlds which can only be used in compassion, and The Heartwood Crown has the Sword of Tears, a sword bent on bringing justice for past wrongs against the Scim. We have the strong friendship between Val and Alex, which is certainly mirrored in Madeline and Jason. And I think writing fantasy in general encourages me to relax and unwind a little, to have fun while I’m writing and let things go to the strange places they want to go. If an interdimensional rock wants to show up and talk about some things, hey, you should let him! Or, you know, there may or may not be a talking flying cat in The Heartwood Crown. Okay, there totally is. You will love her. At the end of the day, The Sword of Six Worlds gave me the confidence to write a (much longer) YA fantasy novel.
Coming Next: The First Time We Saw Him